Today, the U.S. Justice Department arrested and charged dozens of people in a nationwide conspiracy "that facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and the admission of students to elite universities as purported athletic recruits."

According to the U.S. District Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, athletic coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest, Georgetown, and other elite universities were implicated, along with a number of parents and exam administrators. According to a New York Times report, those charged in the scheme include Hollywood celebrities Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives) and Lori Loughlin (Full House), and "prominent business leaders, a fashion designer and a top lawyer."

According to the complaint, university athletic coaches and administrators were bribed to admit certain applicants as "purported athletic recruits -- regardless of their athletic abilities, and in some cases, even though they did not play the sport they were purportedly recruited to play -- thereby facilitating their admission to universities in place of more qualified applicants."

In just one example, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli and wife Lori Loughlin were accused of paying bribes totaling $500,000 to USC senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and the Key Worldwide Foundation to get their two daughters onto the USC crew team as recruited athletes, which facilitated their acceptance by the university.

According to a USC statement:

"We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university. USC is conducting an internal investigation and will take employment actions as appropriate. USC is in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme. Additionally, the university is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward."

In addition to the athletic recruiting scheme, Key Worldwide Foundation is accused of having third parties take the SAT exam on behalf of the children of its clients, or correcting their answers after they took the test.

According to the Department of Justice, approximately $25 million in bribes were paid, with average payments of between $200,000 and $400,000.

Some of the people charged include:

  • Mossimo Giannulli -- fashion designer
  • Lori Loughlin -- actress and wife of Mossimo Giannulli
  • Manuel Henriquez -- chairman and CEO Hercules Technology Growth Capital
  • Marci Palatella -- founder Preservation Distillery
  • Gordon Ernst -- head coach University of Rhode Island tennis team
  • Gregory Abbott -- chairman International Dispensing Corporation
  • William McGlashan Jr. -- cofounder Rise Fund
  • Felicity Huffman -- actress
  • Robert Zangrillo -- CEO Dragon Global

Unfortunately, the true victims of this scheme are the otherwise qualified applicants who were pushed aside by, in the words of Andrew Lelling, United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, "far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in."

Published on: Mar 12, 2019
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